If the music on acclaimed guitarist and composer Todd Mosby’s newest release, Aerial Views, seems to take flight and soar, that’s not coincidental. From the time he was six years old, Mosby has been in love with flying—now, on this collection of a dozen towering tracks, he conveys that sensation through his music.
“I had early childhood experiences piloting my father’s plane; he was a professional aviator,” Mosby says, “and we spent a lot of time in the air, feeling of freedom and independence whenever we took to the sky. As I got older, that freedom evolved into a spiritual journey. Expanding into a sense of connectedness to all living things, music became an integral part of allowing my spirit to take flight.”
That freedom is evident throughout Aerial Views, the third in a series of concept albums that highlight the natural elements. It follows Eagle Mountain, a tribute to earth, and Open Waters, dedicated to the seas. In conceiving the music for Aerial Views, Mosby focused on strong melody and a unique form of harmony inspired by the Imrat guitar; the bulk of the tracks feature Mosby interacting in instrumental settings with some A list musicians; Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, Michael Manring and Jeff Haynes to name a few. “I had an abundance of material to pull from,” he says. “Each tune had to survive the production process and remain engaging enough for each musician to bring their best forward.” Mosby says. One solo acoustic track and one vocal lyric track fill out the program.
Produced by the legendary Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton team, Aerial Views takes off with “Gliding,” featuring a cast of world-class musicians: bassist Tony Levin, drummer Jerry Marotta, percussionist Jeff Haynes, multi-instrumentalist Premik Tubbs on soprano saxophone and Eaton playing the Fender Rhodes keyboard. Mosby plays both the standard Gibson ES275 guitar as well as acoustic and electric Imrat guitar, an 18-stringed sitar-guitar hybrid bridge instrument created by Ustadt Imrat Khan, Kim Schwartz and Mosby. Imrat guitars are utilized on four of Aerial Views’ tracks in all.
The award-winning Mosby is considered a rare master of both North Indian raag and Western composition and improvisation. Mosby’s immersion in Indian music has long given him a distinctive sound, and is once again explored in great depth on this new release. “I started listening to Indian music when I was 10,” Mosby says. “It sat in the background of my life until I heard that Imrat Khan was coming to St. Louis to teach and live.” Mosby, who resides in that midwestern city, monitored a class Khan was teaching and afterwards, asked to study with him on guitar. That initial contact led to a 13-year disciplined study of classical North Indian technique, raag, philosophy and history of music in the old school Indian tradition. After seven years Mosby began doing concerts with Khan.
“My studies in classical North Indian music have had a profound influence on my concept, technique, composition, performance and standards of musical excellence,” he says. “Tonal music is some of the most difficult to perform well. My understanding of raag, tal, bebop and modal music, in addition to my Imrat guitars, allows me to bridge the Western and Eastern music cultures.” Mosby is the only guitarist to become a member of the famed Imdhad Khani Gharana of musicians, India’s most prestigious family of sitar musicians dating back 500 years.
“Across America,” the second track on Aerial Views, introduces the virtuoso violinist Charlie Bisharat, who returns periodically; other contributors on the album include pianist and vocalist Lola Kristine (an upcoming young artist and natural in the studio and stage) and veteran bassist Michael Manring. Ackerman, the legendary founder of Windham Hill Records and a Grammy-winning guitarist in his own right, contributes acoustic guitar to “Aether,” another standout track, which is Mosby’s version of John Coltrane’s “Naima.”
Each successive track—bearing titles such as “Blue Horizons,” “Earth & Sky” and “Between the Clouds,” and of course the title track—further expounds on the album’s overt theme, with various combinations of instruments providing the ever-shifting coloration. Mosby credits Ackerman and Eaton with setting the highest standards for each musician and helping to flesh out their best work via superb production and musical insight.
“Will has the ears of a true producer, and I trust him 100 percent,” he says. “He knows what sounds right. He knows how to make music live in a track forever. The combination of Will, Tom and myself makes for a nice balance as far as musical choice goes. I stay out of the way and always default to them unless I feel really strongly about something. [The lyric track] ‘Shining Lights’ is an example of where I pushed for a choir sound on the last verse. Eventually, Will and Tom were on board and then took it to a whole other level. And Tom Eaton is a rare engineer/musician who lives easily in both worlds. He is the Van Gogh of recorded music. Tom’s ability to communicate, set mics, edit and mix along with an exquisite sense of musicianship, makes him unique. Together they bring clarity, focus and a sense of musicality. This is my third album with this team so we have developed a nice workflow, a nice synergistic relationship. Each recording gets more expansive and better.”
Among the musicians who appear throughout Aerial Views, Manring, Haynes, Tubbs and Kristine are the core group of the New Horizons Ensemble, one of Mosby’s regular performing groups. The tracks “Aether,” “Into Starlight” and “Solo Flight” feature that ensemble, while the others feature the expanded, current group. The album was recorded at three studios, with basic guitar and subsequent guitar parts cut at Imaginary Roads Studio in Windham, Vermont, overdubs done at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., and the mastering and mixing handled at Eaton’s Universal Noise Studio in Newburyport, Mass.
Amazingly, the final creation was pieced together from an initial 500 complete and incomplete ideas over a two year period. Mosby honed this down to 32 tunes submitted to Will and then further pruned for the final selection. The compositions were mostly written specifically for this album, Mosby explains. “The tunes started appearing shortly after the Open Waters album was complete. I had also toured some of these tunes during our last set of concerts in January 2020. When composing for this genre, I like to start with interesting chord progressions which are fun to improvise over. I am able to create some pretty deceptively lush progressions on the acoustic Imrat guitar. It offers a special air of tonal integrity not found on any other instrument. Melodies evolve quickly within a few passes.”
Once the chords, melody and form were complete and the instrumentation laid out, it was time for Aerial Views to take flight. “There is an ability to see beyond a land-based form of vision. Your perspective changes.” Mosby says in summation. “The music allows entry into the realms of the aether (spirit) and the action of flight which is the cohesive point of departure for a concept album.”